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book stack red march 2019

I blew through four and a half books on vacation, then struggled to finish anything for over a week after that. C’est la vie, I suppose. But here are the stunners for the second half of March:

A Question of Holmes, Brittany Cavallaro
Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson are at Oxford for a pre-college summer program, hoping to leave murder cases behind. But of course, Charlotte gets thrust into a case while wondering if this is the work she really wants to do. I love this smart, crackling-with-tension modern YA series take on Holmes and Watson, and this fourth book (the last?) is wonderful.

Vintage 1954, Antoine Laurain
When three residents (and one American guest) of a Paris apartment building share a rare bottle of 1954 Beaujolais, they wake up the next morning in 1954. The sci-fi premise (flying saucers! Running into another version of yourself!) is a little shaky, but it’s a fun story and I liked the characters, especially antiques restorer Magalie. I like Laurain’s whimsical, wry, slim novels, and I received an advance copy; it’s out June 18.

Searching for Sylvie Lee, Jean Kwok
After a childhood split between the Netherlands and New York City, Sylvie Lee doesn’t feel she fits anywhere, so she becomes a hard-driving high achiever. But when she returns to Amsterdam to visit her dying grandmother and then disappears, her younger sister Amy flies across the ocean to search for her. I loved Kwok’s previous two novels, Girl in Translation and especially Mambo in Chinatown. This one is much darker and sadder, but compelling – a story of family secrets and how the unsaid shapes us. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 4).

Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
Abandoned by her family members as a young child, Kya Clark spends years living alone in a shack at the edge of a North Carolina marshland. Known as the Marsh Girl, she’s mostly ignored or shunned by the townspeople. When a young man who knew Kya ends up murdered, the town has to confront its prejudice against her. I loved this book; gorgeous, fierce writing and an unforgettable main character. My friend Bethany called it “Girl of the Limberlost meets murder mystery,” and that’s a perfect description.

The Islanders, Meg Mitchell Moore
Summer on Block Island: Joy Sousa’s whoopie pie shop is facing competition from a new French food truck. Lu Trusdale, bored stay-at-home mom, has a secret project. And disgraced novelist Anthony Puckett is hiding out after a scandal rocked his career and his marriage. Moore’s fifth novel weaves these characters’ stories together and asks big questions about love, life and forgiveness. I love her books: they’re breezy but substantial and her characters are real. I particularly loved Maggie, Joy’s quirky daughter. A friend shared the ARC she scored of this one – it’s out June 11.

The Dearly Beloved, Cara Wall
Charles meets Lily in the library at Harvard, and falls in love with her even though she tells him she can never believe in God. Nan, a Southern minister’s daughter, falls in love with James, son of a hardscrabble Chicago family. When James and Charles are jointly called to pastor a Presbyterian church in New York City, these four lives become inextricably intertwined. A quiet, luminous, powerfully real debut about ministry, friendship and what happens when faith meets truly hard times. I loved every page. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 13).

The Paris Diversion, Chris Pavone 
Paris, early morning: a man walks into the Louvre courtyard wearing a suicide vest. But not all is as it seems – and Kate Moore, expat housewife and intelligence agent, must work to put the pieces together before it’s too late. I like Pavone’s smart, stylish Eurocentric thrillers, and this one (a sequel to The Expats) is a well-plotted, pulse-pounding wild ride. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 7).

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World, Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Doreen Green, age 14, is secretly Squirrel Girl – a superhero in training with leaping powers and a squirrel tail. This super fun novelization of her adventures sees her saving the neighborhood with the help of her furry friends. So silly and great.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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papercuts jp bookstore twinkle lights

And just like that, it’s nearly Thanksgiving. Here are the books that have gotten me through the first half of November – including some real gems. (Photo from the lovely Papercuts JP, which I just visited for the first time.)

The Penny Poet of Portsmouth: A Memoir of Place, Solitude, and Friendship, Katherine Towler
For years, Robert Dunn was a fixture on the streets of Portsmouth, N.H.: a solitary, self-contained wandering poet who nonetheless seemed to know everyone. Towler’s memoir traces her friendship with Dunn, his literary career and later illness, and his effect on her. Moving and poignant and clear; the writing is so good. (Liberty recommended this and I found it for $2 at the Harvard Book Store.)

Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot, Mark Vanhoenacker
Humans have long dreamed of flight, and Vanhoenacker’s career as a pilot moves him to reflect on its many aspects. A lovely, well-written, accessible blend of memoir, history, aviation tech, and reflections on globalization, interconnectedness and journeys. So many beautiful lines and interesting facts. Found at the wonderful Bookstore in Lenox this summer.

Circe, Madeline Miller
The least favored child of the sun god Helios, Circe is ignored and eventually exiled to a remote island. But there, she discovers her powers of witchcraft, and builds a life for herself. I grabbed this at the library and I could not put it down: Miller’s writing is gorgeous and compelling, and I loved Circe as a character. She interacts with many of the mortal men (sailors) who visit her island, but I especially loved watching her discover her strength in solitude.

Marilla of Green Gables, Sarah McCoy
Before Anne, there was Marilla – whom L.M. Montgomery fans know as Anne’s stern but loving guardian. McCoy gives us a richly imagined account of Marilla’s early life: her teenage years, her budding romance with John Blythe, her deep bond with Matthew and their family farm. Lovely and nourishing. Now I want to go back to Avonlea again.

Greenwitch, Susan Cooper
This third book in Cooper’s Dark is Rising sequence brings the heroes of the first two books together: the three Drew children, Will Stanton and Merriman Lyon. They gather in Cornwall to retrieve a grail stolen by the Dark. I find the magic in these books confusing, but I like the characters.

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, Brené Brown
We can’t belong anywhere in the world until we belong to ourselves: this is Brown’s assertion, and she makes a compelling case for it. I have mixed feelings about her work; she articulates some powerful ideas and I admire her commitment to storytelling and nuance. But sometimes, for me, the whole is not quite as great as the sum of its parts. Still worth reading.

A Forgotten Place, Charles Todd
The Great War is (barely) over, but for the wounded, life will never be the same. Bess Crawford, nurse and amateur sleuth, still feels bound to the men she has served. She travels to a bleak, isolated peninsula in Wales to check on a captain she has come to know, but once there, finds herself caught up in a web of local secrets and unable to leave. These are good mysteries, but this book’s real strength is its meditation on adjusting to life after war.

A Study in Honor, Claire O’Dell
This was an impulse grab at the library: a Sherlock Holmes adaptation featuring Holmes and Watson as black queer women in late 21st-century Washington, D.C. Janet Watson has lost an arm in the New Civil War, and meets Sara Holmes through a mutual friend. Together, they work to solve the mystery of several veterans’ deaths, which may be related to big pharma. I love the concept of this one, though the plot and characters didn’t quite work for me.

The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley
After her sister’s death, Eva Ward returns to the Cornwall house where she spent many happy childhood summers. There, she finds herself slipping between worlds and falling in love with a man from the past. Engaging historical fiction with a bit of time travel – though that part of this one was a bit odd. Still really fun.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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book catapult bookstore interior san diego books

We’ve had April showers, April snow, April bright sunshine…I don’t know anymore, y’all. But I know the books are saving my life, as always. Here’s the latest batch:

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
I dove back into L’Engle’s classic after seeing the visually stunning new film. (I have thoughts about the film, but that’s another post.) I was surprised at how many details I’d forgotten, many of which director Ava DuVernay included. I love Meg Murry, and this time, her realization that no one else will save her rang especially true to me.

A Howl of Wolves, Judith Flanders
London editor Sam Clair is a reluctant (at best) theatregoer, but she drags her cop boyfriend, Jake, to a West End production starring her neighbor and friend. When the show’s director ends up hanged onstage, Sam and Jake are drawn into the resulting investigation. Well plotted; I like Sam and her dry wit. A solid fourth entry in this series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 15).

The Wild Woman’s Guide to Traveling the World, Kristin Rockaway
Sophie Bruno is a meticulous planner in her professional and personal life. But when her best friend ditches her during a Hong Kong vacation, Sophie meets a dreamy artist guy and ends up making some drastic changes. I liked the premise, but found Sophie irritating – though I cheered at her eventual career move. Found at the Book Catapult in San Diego (pictured above).

Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, ed. Manjula Martin
I picked up this essay collection at McNally Jackson last year, and dove into it as part of my nonfiction #unreadshelfproject. It’s uneven but fascinating: varied takes on the perils, rewards and frustrations of earning a living as a writer. Standouts: essays by Nina MacLaughlin, Meaghan O’Connell, Daniel José Older and Martin herself.

The Case for Jamie, Brittany Cavallaro
Jamie Watson hasn’t seen Charlotte Holmes for a year, since a confrontation on a Sussex lawn that left someone dead. Back at his Connecticut boarding school, Jamie suspects the Moriartys are up to their old tricks. Cavallaro writes especially well about what happens in a relationship after a rupture. A fast-paced, heartbreaking, stellar third book in this series.

My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
I’d been meaning to read this slim novel (my first Strout) for a while, and snagged it on remainder at the Harvard Book Store. It’s spare and luminous, with beautiful sentences and insights on grief, mother-daughter relationships and class divides. I didn’t love it as many others did, but it was worth reading.

Mary B, Katherine J. Chen
Mary Bennet, as everyone knows, is the plain sister: not beautiful, witty or talented. But she has a story, and Chen’s debut gives her the chance to tell it. The first few chapters dragged (does the world really need another Pride and Prejudice rehash?), but things pick up after that. Warning: this remake does not treat the other Bennets kindly. I had mixed feelings about this one, but it was certainly interesting. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 24).

The Splendour Falls, Susanna Kearsley
I fell in love with Kearsley’s historical novels this winter, and this one – set in Chinon, France – was wonderfully atmospheric. It’s much earlier than the others I’ve read, so the writing and plot are not nearly as accomplished. But I still found it engaging.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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maisie dobbs in this grave hour book

It’s May. (How did that happen?) The April showers continue, but they are producing both May flowers (tulips!) and good books. Here’s the latest roundup:

The Last of August, Brittany Cavallaro
Cavallaro’s second YA novel follows Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson (descendants of that Holmes and Watson) to Sussex, then to Berlin and Prague, on the trail of an art forgery ring and Charlotte’s missing uncle. I love Jamie’s narration: he is keenly observant and deeply kind (a Watson to his core). This plot was a lot of fun, though the ending didn’t quite work for me. I loved the first book featuring these two, A Study in Charlotte, and will definitely read the third.

How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays, Mandy Len Catron
Long before Catron wrote a Modern Love essay that went viral, she was thinking about – and doing research on – love. This book includes Catron’s own love story, but it’s not just a boy-meets-girl romance. She shares her parents’ and grandparents’ love stories, examines her own decade-long relationship that eventually soured, and considers a lot of the cultural baggage surrounding love. Insightful and honest and so good. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 27).

In This Grave Hour, Jacqueline Winspear
September 1939: England and Europe are bracing for another war, and as usual, Maisie Dobbs is in the thick of it. She’s investigating the deaths of several Belgian refugees from the last war, while helping her father and stepmother care for evacuee children, and watching out for her employees. I love Maisie and this was a stellar entry in Winspear’s series – plus a lot of great setup for (I hope) the next few books.

The Shark Club, Ann Kidd Taylor
When Maeve Donnelly was 12, she was bitten by a blacktip shark and kissed by the boy she loved. Eighteen years later, Maeve is a marine biologist with a deep love for sharks. When she returns to her hometown, her past and present (plus an illegal shark-finning operation) collide in powerful ways. A smart, well-written, absorbing novel of love, regret and moving forward. I also loved the memoir Taylor co-wrote with her mother, Sue Monk Kidd, Traveling with Pomegranates. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 6).

A Shimmer of Something: Lean Stories of Spiritual Substance, Brian Doyle
Doyle’s rambling prose poems stop me in my tracks – that is, they force me to pay attention, with his constant insistence that “there are no tiny things.” This collection (like all his work) is wonderful: wry, insightful, observant, compassionate.

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
Jane – wise, practical Jane – is one of my more recent faves among Montgomery’s heroines. This book has comforted me every spring for several years now. Love love love.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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textbook akr book sky

Thanks to three glorious days in Florida last week (see above), my reading list has been long lately. (I read four and a half books on vacation!) Here’s the latest roundup:

How the Light Gets In: And Other Headlong Epiphanies, Brian Doyle
I love Brian Doyle’s wise, warm, witty voice and these prose poems – rambling, insightful, observant, funny – are just about perfection. I savored this, dipping into it a few poems at a time over several weeks. Full of wonder, grace and laughter. Found at the Strand.

Starry Night, Isabel Gillies
When 15-year-old Wren goes to a fancy benefit at the Met (where her dad works) wearing her mother’s vintage red Oscar de la Renta dress, and meets a fascinating boy, everything changes. But love, even first love, isn’t always smooth. A bittersweet YA romance; Wren is a little spoiled, but she learns some hard lessons (and says some wise things) about art and love. Found at Greenlight in Brooklyn.

The Jane Austen Project, Kathleen Flynn
“What kind of maniac travels in time?” For Rachel Katzman, the answer is: a devoted Jane Austen fan who’s keen to retrieve a lost manuscript and perhaps unravel the mystery surrounding Jane’s death. Rachel and her colleague, Liam, travel back to 1815 and make friends with Jane and her family – but, of course, nothing goes quite as planned. A fun mix of time travel, love and catnip for Austen fans, though the ending was quite abrupt. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 2).

The Romantics, Leah Konen
Gael Brennan is a class-A certified Romantic – so it hits him particularly hard when he catches his girlfriend kissing his best friend (right after his parents have separated). But Love – the sly, witty narrator of this YA novel – has lots of plans for Gael and his nearest and dearest. An absolutely delightful look at love in all its forms. The narration is so clever and fun. My favorite line: “Real love makes you better than you ever knew you could be.”

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Amy Krouse Rosenthal
I loved Rosenthal’s previous memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. This one is organized topically: Pre-Assessment, Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, etc. Rosenthal’s writing is quirky and luminous – she holds a mirror up to the beautiful pieces of everyday life. Her Modern Love essay recently went viral, right before she passed away – and before Nina recommended this book at Great New Books. The timing, as well as the whimsy and gentle gravity of the memoir itself, make it even more worth reading.

Summerlost, Ally Condie
Since the car crash that killed her dad and brother, Cedar Lee has felt lost in her grief. But when she, her mom and other brother return to her mom’s hometown for the summer, Cedar makes a new friend, and begins edging back toward feeling whole again. A funny, sweet, gorgeous middle-grade novel of friendship, summer theatre festivals and learning to dream again. I loved it.

The Secrets of Wishtide, Kate Saunders
Mrs. Laetitia Rodd, a clergyman’s widow in 1850s England, uses her entirely correct social position as excellent cover for solving mysteries. Her narrative voice is wonderful – wry and keen-eyed – and the mystery was satisfyingly tangled. Her supporting cast – including her lawyer brother and plainspoken landlady – is also highly enjoyable. First in a planned series, and I’d gladly read the others.

The Lost Letter, Jillian Cantor
As Katie Nelson faces the dissolution of her marriage and her father’s increasing memory problems, she finds an intriguing item in his stamp collection: an unsent letter with an unusual German stamp from World War II. With the help of a stamp dealer, Katie digs into the stamp’s history and uncovers a connection to her own past. I like Cantor’s thoughtful, compelling historical novels and this dual-narrative one was satisfying. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 13).

Mary Russell’s War, Laurie R. King
I love King’s series of novels about Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, and enjoyed this collection of short stories featuring same. Russell’s narrative voice is always a delight, and appearances by Mrs. Hudson, Dr. Watson and others are pure fun.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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december books 2016 christmas tree

Happy New Year, friends. How were your holidays? I hope they were lovely.

I spent the first part of my Christmas break sick in a hotel room (ugh), but did manage to squeeze in a lot of reading, both while I was sick and after I got well. So as we head into 2017, here’s the last reading roundup of 2016:

My (Not So) Perfect Life, Sophie Kinsella
Katie Brenner is living her dream life in London – and trying to rise above the non-Instagrammable parts. When she’s let go, she heads home to Somerset to help her dad launch a glamping business. Everything is fine until her high-maintenance ex-boss, Demeter, shows up. Fluffy and fun with a few deeper insights. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 7).

A Study in Scarlet Women
, Sherry Thomas
When Charlotte Holmes is caught in flagrante delicto with a married man, it’s the end of her reputation – but only the beginning of her career as Sherlock Holmes. This was a clever take on the Sherlock Holmes story, with a highly entertaining “Watson.”

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts is chock full of adventures – the Quidditch World Cup, the Triwizard Tournament – but the shadow of Lord Voldemort draws ever closer. I’m rereading these books in tandem with a friend this time around, and it is so much fun.

Winter Solstice, Rosamunde Pilcher
I reread this gentle Scottish novel every December. This year I lingered in it, sometimes reading only a few pages a day. I love this story of heartbreak, quiet hope, and the ways community saves us.

A Cast of Vultures, Judith Flanders
London book editor Sam Clair is juggling cranky colleagues, nosy consultants and an epic hangover – and that’s before she gets drawn into a mystery involving arson, missing neighbors and potential drug dealing. Witty and well plotted; better than its two predecessors. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 21).

The Left-Handed Fate, Kate Milford
Lucy Bluecrowne is utterly at home on her father’s privateering vessel, the titular Left-Handed Fate. But as the Fate sails the high seas during the Napoleonic Wars, Lucy and her crew are drawn into intrigue with the French, the Americans and the mysterious citizens of Nagspeake. A great adventure story with a hint of magic. (I also loved Milford’s previous novel, Greenglass House.)

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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favorite books 2016 part 1

We are halfway through the year already, and I’m reading at my usual breakneck pace – nearly 130 books. I talk about what I’m reading in my semi-monthly roundups, but I wanted to share the best of my reading year (so far) with you.

Here are the books I have loved the most this year. (Not all of them were published in 2016, though about half of them were.)

Book That Best Embodies Its Title: Becoming Wise by Krista Tippett. She writes with such grace and (yes) wisdom about the Big Questions of what it means to be human, and draws many other voices into that conversation. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time. So many great, thought-provoking sentences.

Loveliest Quiet Novel: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. This gorgeously written novel follows the intertwined lives of two couples, the Morgans and the Langs, over several decades. Beautiful, thought-provoking, heartbreaking and wise. A book worth reading and rereading. (Recommended by Anne and others.)

Most Captivating Young Adult Adventure Story: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson. I loved every page of Leah Westfall’s journey from her Georgia homestead to the gold fields of California. She’s hiding a lot of secrets (including her ability to sense gold), but she is strong, compassionate and utterly human. I wrote about this book for Great New Books.

Most Sweeping, Heartbreaking, Absorbing Epic Novel: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Four words: my dad was right. I should have read this years ago, but I’m so glad I finally did. I fell head over heels for Augustus McCrae, Woodrow F. Call, and their band of cowboys and wanderers, making the journey from Texas to Montana. It’s long, but powerfully rendered in simple prose. So good.

Wisest Memoir on Faith, Seasons and Home: Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy. I loved Christie’s honest, lyrical writing about making a home with her family in an old Pennsylvania farmhouse, and the struggles of staying put and building a worthwhile life. Luminous, clear-eyed and utterly lovely.

Freshest Take on Holmes & Watson: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, which reimagines Holmes and Watson as 21st-century teenagers at a Connecticut boarding school. Charlotte Holmes is sharp, jagged and brilliant, and Jamie Watson is insightful and kind. (The dialogue is fantastic.)

Most Insightful Foodie Memoir: Stir by Jessica Fechtor, which recounts the author’s journey to recovery after a brain aneurysm, and how she found her everyday (and a lot of delicious, life-giving meals) in the kitchen. Warm, wry and beautifully written, with so many insightful lines on food, family and living well.

Most Brilliant Homage to a Classic: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, whose orphaned protagonist loves Jane Eyre but is not nearly so meek as that other Jane. Whip-smart writing, some truly wonderful supporting characters and so many fantastic lines.

Best Combination of Recipe Inspiration and Food Haiku: My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl, which includes mouthwatering recipes, lyrical tweets and some plainspoken wisdom about a tough year in Reichl’s life.

Best Reread: Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos, which pulled me out of a serious reading slump. Beautifully written, deeply compassionate and so smart.

Best Book About Science and Life for Non-Scientists: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. A memoir about botany and building a life. Fascinating, sarcastic, lovely and wise.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are the best books you’ve read so far in 2016?

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